Replacing the production of departed Texas Longhorns running back D’Onta Foreman remains a difficult task for position coach Stan Drayton, but head coach Tom Herman expressed his pleasure with recent developments at the position during a Monday media availability.
“I feel a lot better today than I did a week, 10 days ago about that position,” Herman said.
One reason Herman feels increasingly optimistic is the return of sophomore running back Kyle Porter from his shoulder injury — Porter is listed atop the depth chart as a co-starter with junior Chris Warren III.
“The running back spot, had Kyle not missed the extended lengths of practice that he did with the shoulder injury, I think he would have been in that top spot by himself,” Herman said.
Nearly three weeks ago, Drayton said that he wasn’t willing to anoint Porter as he continued searching for a bell cow at the position, and that sentiment likely hasn’t changed.
However, with Porter healthy once again, the Katy product’s attention to detail has resulted in his current positioning as the team’s co-starter at running back.
“The one thing about Kyle Porter is that he doesn’t make a lot of mistakes — systematically, he’s sound,” Drayton said in early August. “He knows exactly what he’s doing, so with that being said, he’s able to play fast. He’s actually playing faster than anybody in the room because of his knowledge of the system, but he still has a lot of work to do.”
When the season opens against Maryland on Saturday, Drayton will have an opportunity to see if Porter has improved in his areas of focus, which include trusting his reads, hitting holes with more explosion, and changing speed.
The good news is that Porter isn’t on the verge of winning the job by default — Warren is also healthy for the moment and has been practicing well, according to Herman, something that Drayton noted has been a work in progress for the junior.
“When he was given the opportunity to go in there and take those reps, he seized that opportunity. He played really, really well,” Herman said of his big running back.
The size and physical strength of Warren might him a unique player — he can bench 390 pounds, power clean 340 pounds, and squat 450 pounds, all while maintaining a 31-inch vertical at 250 pounds.
The wild card in the group is junior Kirk Johnson, who has been back at practice for the last several weeks after suffering from a hamstring issue at the start of preseason camp.
“It's nice to see Kirk Johnson in the fold there, as well,” Herman said.
If Johnson can stay healthy and neither Porter nor Warren seize control of the job, he could become a difference-maker for Texas with his game-breaking speed and agility.
The Texas head coach has also said that freshmen Toneil Carter and Daniel Young will both play this season, though Johnson’s return to health could limit their snaps. Maturity may, as well — both were pulled aside for lack of focus while the team was stretching prior to the second scrimmage and had have issues with ball security.
As the co-starter designation on the depth chart released Monday indicates, there isn’t much separation at this point, so Drayton surely doesn’t have his desired bell cow yet, but if Herman feels better about the position, Longhorns fans should, too.